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Whose Religion is Christianity?: The Gospel Beyond the West [Paperback]

Sanneh Lamin
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 138 pages
  • Publisher: William B Eerdmans Publishing Co (5 Jan 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802821642
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802821645
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 13.4 x 1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 188,280 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


This book is unique in the literature of world Christianity, not least for its novel structure. Sanneh's engaging narrative takes the form of a self-interview in which he asks questions about the cross-cultural expansion of Christianity and provides insightful answers and meaningful predictions about the future. This technique also allows Sanneh to track developments in world Christianity even while giving attention to the responses and involvement of indigenous peoples around the world. Sanneh's own background and lifelong involvement with non-Western cultures bring a richness of perspective not found in any other book on world Christianity. For example, Sanneh highlights what is distinctive about Christianity as a world religion, and he offers a timely comparison of Christianity with Islam's own missionary tradition. The book also gives pride of place to the recipients of the Christian message rather than to the missionaries themselves. Indeed, Sanneh argues here that the gospel is not owned by the West and that the future of the tradition lies in its "world" character. Literate, relevant, and highly original, Whose Religion Is Christianity? presents a stimulating new outlook on faith and culture that will interest a wide range of readers.

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First Sentence
By 2002 Christian expansion continued to gather momentum, and the churches in Africa and Asia, for example, were bursting at the seams with an uninterrupted influx of new members. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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5.0 out of 5 stars How Christianity enters new cultures 30 Mar 2013
By Neil
Sanneh is a master of his field, and an excellent communicator. He understands the historical development of Christianity in a cultural context better than anyone I know (mmm... maybe Andrew Walls is on a par, actually!) and is able to communicate what this means for contemporary Christianity. The Christian faith has never been locked into one cultural expression and Sanneh demonstrates how this has occurred through history and implications for the the global church today. A bit like Stephen Jenkins but not based on statistics, rather on understanding of history and faith today. Excellent.
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Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Modern Handbook 2 Mar 2006
By suburban dissident - Published on Amazon.com
Lamin Sanneh's work sketches the relationship between East and West in the development of Christianity as a Global phenomenom. His work, in terms of content, closely resembles Phillip Jenkins work - The Next Christendom. However, where Jenkins looks to statistics and trends to analyze and predict (which is unbecoming a historian) the direction of contemporary Christianity, Sanneh goes beyond statistical analysis and insightfully relates issues of aculturation and indigenization. Jenkins' work seems shallow in comparison. Sanneh uses a dialogue style in order to adequately present the intricacies of question concerning the development of Christianity outside a Western context. Sanneh's prior work on translation and his current work on African religious traditions influence the examples that Sanneh uses, but the book is not limited to these topics. In its conciseness and intellectual rigor, this book represents a helpful handbook for understanding the new face of the global church and how we can effectively discuss the subtleties of Global Christianity.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars New Models of Faith and Community 18 Oct 2007
By John T. Henry - Published on Amazon.com
We are in a time of extraordinary growth in Christianity fueled primarily, as Sanneh writes, by "several factors: the end of colonial rule; the effect of mother tongue development and Bible translation; indigenous cultural renewal and local agency; and the theological stimulation of the Christian adoption of the African names of God." (41-42) Sanneh provides new perspective in the study of the expansion of Christianity, which complements my prior reading of Latourette's seven volumes on the Expansion of Christianity. Sanneh suggests the missionary should give "priority to indigenous response and local appropriation over against missionary transmission and direction." In other words, the notion that the gospel has been "from the West to the Rest" has been a false view of the expansion of Christianity. Sanneh, a Gambian born former-Muslim adherent, provides a reversed perspective highlighting the "indigenous discovery of Christianity rather than the Christian discovery of indigenous societies." (10)

What was Sanneh's central purposes in writing this book?
It appears that Sanneh's purpose was to assist the Post-Christian Western Church to make "live contact" with Post-Western Christianity. To accomplish this, Sanneh explains this shift of the Church to the Majority world outside the West, including the

One of Sanneh's key points is that "local renewal takes place without global orchestration." Sanneh makes a distinction between "world" and "global" as they relate to Christianity on the grounds that "world Christianity has nothing of the global structures of power and economics that global Christianity presumes." (78) Because new communities have embraced Christianity, mostly without Western orchestration, Sanneh calls for a "fresh understanding of the gospel in world history." (14) That fresh understanding should be a simple as if a child were in our midst as we explained it; after all, that is the model Jesus gave as he explained the kingdom of God. Sanneh reminds us, "Jesus measured spiritual deafness, not literacy."

The Western Christian world is caught in what Sanneh calls a "Western debilitating guilt complex." While much of the Western Christian world predicted a decline in Christian numbers, Christian expansion continued to gather momentum in Asia and Africa. John R. Mott told the delegates of the ecumenical conference at Edinburgh 1910 "to expect Africa to be taken over by Islam." However, Sanneh offers hope: "A post-Christian West is not so far gone that it cannot make live contact with a post-Western Christianity." (80) "The West should get over its Christendom guilt complex about Christianity as colonialism by accepting that Christianity has survived its European political habits and is thriving today in its post-Western phase among non-Western populations, sometimes because of, and in spite of, Western missionaries." (74)

The Western worldview may need adjustment in order for such contact and revitalization of the Church in the West to take place. "In spite of its impregnable roots in secular autonomy, individualism will likely be modified by the communicative realities of cross-cultural encounter." (7)
There is a fresh theological advantage to societies where the recent large-scale conversion followed the adoption of indigenous names of God. These names of God are basic to the structure of traditional societies, forming and regulating their cultures. "It's therefore hard to think of viable social systems without the name of God, but easy to envision societies that have become vulnerable because they lost the name or the sense of the transcendent. (Maybe there is a lesson for a post-Christian West here.)" (31)

My case study paper has been informed greatly by Sanneh's perspective of indigenous theological advantage coupled with the growing new reality of a global Church, which celebrates difference while experiencing a greater unity in the Body of Christ globally. Sanneh writes, "The world is becoming one, not from the synthesis of all cultures into one, or from the discovery of a common genetic pool, but from the accelerating pressure to acknowledge and celebrate difference when that is no longer remote. That is the deep movement of the spirit in our time."

Conversion, it should be easily agreed, is "the turning of ourselves to God, and that means all of ourselves without leaving anything behind or outside." (43) I recall a meeting in India where a well-known Sri Lankan Christian leader in dialogue was asking the urgent question of conversion at the gathering. Conversion is confusion in India, besides being illegal. My response to the "dialogue" was to say conversion is like adoption, being taken into another family. This Sri Lankan leader, whose name I withhold, stopped the dialogue and began to preach in a way that exhibited a stark disagreement with the only white guy in the crowd, me. Because conversion is such a volatile subject, especially in India, I appreciate the clarity and simplicity with which Sanneh approaches the subject.

This book challenges us to look for new models of faith and community. Sanneh describes how, in the current expansion of World Christianity, "fishing nets in the form of religious vocations, formation, and apostolic structures will be needed to avert disarray and disenchantment." He writes, "Growth requires the expansion of both physical buildings and horizons to make room for new models of truth and community." (40)
37 of 47 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Misleading title... 20 Mar 2005
By A Reader Living In Asia - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Sometimes one sees a book and struck by simply the title itself makes an impulse purchase. As a "Westerner" living in the East, I purchased this book thinking it would provide more insight into the phenomenal Christian activity and growth that I see regularly here in the East. The title, I would soon discover, is not the most accurate description of what the book entails.

The book's primary interest seems to lay in a discussion of the vernacular translation of the Bible, and even that is focused especially on the African continent. The non-western movement of Christianity is much broader than Africa, yet this is mentioned only as a side note in this work.

The format of the work certainly is a love/hate item for myself. Largely presented in a question and answer format ('interview format') that ranges from comical to frustrating to at times interesting. I have found this kind of format, before as with this text, helpful at first but soon quite tedious as it plods on and on page after page. When the author is not giving incredibly leading questions, his questions present the biased extreme of the 'enlightened' view.

These criticisms aside, the book did present some great insights. I appreciated the response to questions on judging an individual's response to the Gospel and conversion. Also appreciated is the presentation of the strength in the 'Designer's hand' of including all cultures and languages in His ultimate saving Gospel. A person involved in Scripture translation would also find great encouragement in the author's high praise and respect for translation to the 'mother tongue.'

A cumbersome presentation (Q&A format), misleading title and bit wordy discussion of the main topic (translation of the Bible into the 'mother tongue') cause me to give this book only 2 out of 5 stars.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars yale theologian's global purview 18 Jan 2007
By Daniel B. Clendenin - Published on Amazon.com
Employing a question and answer rhetorical device, Lamin Sanneh, a native of Gambia who teaches at Yale Divinity School, creates an imaginary dialogue between a representative of the secular, post-Christian West, and himself, an advocate for and scholar of what he calls post-Western Christianity. "World" Christianity, as he understands it, must be distinguished from "Global Christianity." The latter is really just a version of European Christendom, the sad "cultural captivity of faith" no matter how exotic its location. World Christianity, on the other hand, as it has emerged with explosive force in the last several decades, is made up of previously non-Christian societies and cultures who have accepted and adopted the Gospel in and through their own unique idioms. Thus, Sanneh prefers to speak of indigenous cultures discovering Christianity rather than of Christianity (read: the post-Christian West) discovering indigenous societies. For the most part, this resurgence of World Christianity has proceeded since the post-colonial period began, and "without Western organizational structures, including academic recognition, and ...amidst widespread political instability and the collapse of public institutions" (p. 3). In the last third of the book he examines the revolutionary impact of Bible translations in these indigenous movements. Christianity, in fact, "seems unique in being the only world religion that is transmitted without the language or originating culture of its founder" (p. 98). Along the way, he explores ways in which the post-Christian West, so long accustomed to understanding itself as the spiritual creditor to the entire world, might now benefit and learn from World Christianity as its debtor (pp. 57, 74). Except for a few brief remarks about China, Sanneh focuses on his native Africa.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Language, culture, missions and God 9 Nov 2009
By Daryl McCarthy - Published on Amazon.com
Sanneh, a Yale Divinity School professor, delivers a resounding response to secular critics who charge Christianity with obliterating cultural distinctions and abolishing languages. As a native of Gambia and as a well-researched scholar, Sanneh is uniquely qualified to make a strong case for the way in which Christianity has actually enhanced cultures and native languages globally. He finds it ironic that the world is experiencing a massive resurgence of secularism at the same time there is a resurgence of Christianity in many parts of the globe. Ironically, given his criticism for the abstruse language of many theologians, I found Sanneh's writing style difficult to follow at times. His wording is sometimes hard to follow and the flow of thought seemed to jump. This is made even more difficult with the question and answer format he uses for most of the book. But this little volume is definitely a worthwhile read for anyone interested in world Christianity (which he distinguishes from "global Christianity" which he defines as the replication of Eurocentric or Western Christianity. He points out that languages in which the local name for God was used in Bible translation are the very areas where Christianity expanded most rapidly. He pleads for the post-Christian West to connect with and learn from post-Western Christianity. In a powerful section on language, he points out that Christianity is the only world religion which was not promulgated using the founder's own language. Translation was necessary from the very start of the Church and has facilitated the cultural adaptation of the Good News for 2,000 years. For Christianity, languages have intrinsic value and worthy of God's attention.
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